Barber Speak: Guide To Clipper Guards
Words by Kathy Iandoli
Photography by Aundre Larrow
Chances are, if you’ve been frequenting the same barbershop for years, you may walk in, sit in the chair and leave the fate of your hair in your barber’s hands. What happens then when you want a different look or you have to switch barbers? Barbershop lingo is real, and it’s a language that many master within their own personal preferences—from clip length to hair brushing. What benefitted your head years back, though, may not look the same now or you simply are looking for a change. It’s a process, one that involves an trial and error. The phrase “it’ll grow back” may have crossed your lips in the past, and that’s true. Hair does grow back. But why would you voluntarily sit under the blade for a style you might hate when you can freshen up your barbershop talk and nail your look on the first shot?
To take some of the guess work out of your new (or renewed) barbershop experience, we’ve broken down a few popular terms to take with you on your next visit, complete with visuals. Instead of tossing out “one on the sides and two on the top” just because that’s what you’ve always said, follow the cues below so you can knowledgeably build sculpt the cut you want.
Clips refer to the size of the guard on the clippers. That is, they are the gatekeepers of how long or short your hair is. When you order a clip guard, it isn’t the inches, but rather the number of the clip that’s important. As the clip numbers increase, so does the length of the hair. Typically, to achiever a tighter look, with a varied length on top, you’ll request shorter clips “on the sides” with your desired hair length “up top.” Depending upon the texture of your hair, you can have your hair styled “up top” with scissors, a brush (“along the grain” or “against the grain” aka brushed forward or backwards), curls, waves, you name it. It’s a matter of preference. And if you don’t have the Bevel Trimmer handy to get to the finer lined details, here we explore just a few of the clips available to you.
#0 or “zero”
This is the closest to skin (about 1/16 of an inch), while still acknowledging the presence of hair. A “zero all around” will achieve a textbook definition of a buzz cut, but to go completely bald (otherwise known as a “baldy”), tell your barber to break out the razor.
As always, if you want to keep your cut as fresh as possible, make sure your barber uses the Bevel Trimmer to give you a crisp shape up. Not sure whether the Bevel Trimmer is for you? Learn more below.
The #1 is about 1/8 of an inch, which will still bring you a short look, but slightly more hair than a 0. You can always taper or fade from length to length, but we’ll get back to that later.
This is typically the longest clip guard ordered for the sides of the head to still achieve a shorter look. It’s around 3/8 of an inch and provides the fullest look of the aforementioned clips. The clips typically change by eighths of an inch, so just be aware of that progression as you order clip guards by their numbers.
#4, #7, #8
These are three clip guards to keep in mind when going for a longer look. The #4 is 1/2 of an inch, while the #7 jumps to 7/8 of an inch, and the #8 is a full inch. While not the most typical lengths ordered, they’re readily available.
The #5 (5/8) and the #6 (3/4) are typically reserved for a taper. A Taper differs from a Fade in that the clip lengths gradually decrease from longer to shorter. It isn’t as blunt of a transition of a fade. Rather, as you approach your neckline your hair begins to get shorter and shorter. If your hair is all one length, the Taper can also be an option right at the neckline, as opposed to “squared” or “rounded” at the neck. If you’re unsure what a fade entails, check out our tutorial here.